The Pleasure of the Text

March 24th, 2017

The noted French literary critic, Roland Barthes once wrote a book entitled, The Pleasure of the Text (Le plaisir du texte.) As the title indicates, the book describes the many joys of reading.

Our new Incarnation Book Club has been experiencing some of these joys. Our most recent meeting featured a spirited discussion of Muriel Burbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog.

One of the protagonists of the novel is a concierge in an upper-class Paris apartment building. Unbeknownst to the tenants of the building, she is an autodidact who is far better-read than any of the people she is subservient to. Happily, in the end, the concierge emerges from her shell and becomes the real and happy public self she was meant to be.

Most of us have a tendency to retreat into our private selves from time to time. Burbery’s book reminds us that the public selves God gives us can also bring us pleasure. —J. Douglas Ousley

Preaching to Ourselves

March 21st, 2017

Lent can be wearying. It can often seem longer than 40 days and 40 nights!

But one way to make the season more productive is to ask ourselves, what is this Lent teaching us? Are we learning to be more patient? This Lent, I’m watching what I eat more than usual and abstaining from meat, and I am reminded once again how much I love what I eat and how strong my appetite is. I’m grateful for that, of course, but I know that I need to reign myself in as well.

The very long Gospel readings teach us how complicated religion can be. Our faith isn’t simple or simplistic; it requires all that our minds can put into it.

Finally, Lent may seem long, but it does pass. And the passing time reminds us to measure our days and be grateful even for the challenges our days bring. —J. Douglas Ousley


Still On the Fence

March 14th, 2017

As I mentioned last week, the Vestry planned to discuss the current political climate during our annual Quiet Day on March 11.

The discussion did indeed take place, and while there were no startling opinions or conclusions, I felt the dialogue was very worthwhile.  Both conservatives and liberals were able (gently!) to let off steam. And the group generally agreed that in the midst of so many passionate views, our parish should remain officially neutral.

I recognize that there are good arguments for taking a stand against or in favor of the current government. But precisely because there are arguments on each side, I’m inclined to think that the best place for us as a parish remains on the fence. —J. Douglas Ousley


March 7th, 2017

Our Vestry has its annual quiet day this coming Saturday, and I have been asked to lead a discussion. The topic of the discussion is how parish life is being affected by the change of administrations in Washington.

Certainly, a lot of people are asking a lot of questions these days. Christians are not unusual in finding the current political scene perplexing. Many Christians who are conservative politically are finding it hard to confess to their liberal friends that they are Trump supporters. Many Christians who are liberal politically feel an alienation and a desperation that they haven’t felt in years.

I myself am trying to maintain a neutral stance in order to be available to people in both camps. I’m sympathetic to both sides, though I find the uncertainty in Washington troubling.

One thing we can be sure of, though: our President and the others in authority with him need our prayers!–J. Douglas Ousley

Symbols of Hope

February 18th, 2017

One of my colleagues addressed a clergy group this week on the subject of church buildings.

He pointed out that in very depressed communities, churches may be the only buildings still maintained with care. Because they are visible centers of vitality, they become symbols of hope to their surrounding areas.

Church buildings may also have an impact in affluent areas, like our own Murray Hill. They are the rare public spaces where you can enter without being under an obligation to buy something. They are quiet places where people can spend a few moments to think and collect themselves. If they are as large as Incarnation, this can happen in the back of the church even while services are being conducted in the front.

We who need to maintain these costly buildings don’t take them for granted. But we can be glad that others who don’t in any sense identify with the Episcopal Church as an institution still enjoy the peace of Christ that our churches offer. —J. Douglas Ousley

A Week in the C of E

February 8th, 2017

I just returned from a week in London, attending various services and meetings in connection to the Link Program between the Diocese of New York and the Diocese of London, which I chair.

The highlight of my stay was the farewell Eucharist for the Bishop of London, the Rt. Rev. Richard Chartres KCVO. The service was prefaced by Christian rock music and social media in the square in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral. The 20 or so bishops and 400+ priests then processed into St. Paul’s for a majestic Candlemas celebration attended by several thousand laypeople.

I was touched that I was mentioned in the service leaflet, and the Bishop made a special effort to greet me during the service and send his best wishes to the Bishop of New York.

Other highlights included taking the Sunday Eucharist at our link parish of St. Vedast-alias-Foster and then participating in the patronal feast of the parish on February 6. I met the soon-to-be priest-in-charge, the Rev. Paul Kennedy and enjoyed a festive reception in the nave of St. Vedast.

All in all, I am happy to report that the our Mother Church remains alive and well. —J. Douglas Ousley

In the Beginning

January 25th, 2017

By any standard, the Trump administration is off to a tumultuous start. Episcopalians might take notice of a few events from the opening days of the new regime.

First, the first two prayer services which the new (and not notably pious) President attended were in Episcopalian buildings: St. John’s Church, Lafayette Square (“the Church of the Presidents”) and the National Cathedral. There was some pushback from anti-Trump quarters, but one might counter that it’s better to retain the influence we have over national services of worship than to give it up to other religious groups.

Second, among many early executive orders, Mr. Trump re-started the Dakota Pipeline project. The pipeline goes through Native American lands and the Episcopal Church has sponsored many demonstrations against the project, which was halted in December by the Obama administration. We will be hearing a lot about this particular issue in the weeks ahead.

Whatever we feel about our new leader, we need to keep him and all in authority in Washington in our prayers. —J. Douglas Ousley

In God We Trust

January 17th, 2017

The contrast between the positive and the negative feelings as we approach Inauguration Day seems starker than ever.

It’s not unusual to experience a cultural low after the holidays, and cold, gray winter weather doesn’t help one’s mood, either. But the uncertainty surrounding the new administration seems to have intensified anxiety on the left and defensiveness on the right.

I have no political comments to add. And my only spiritual comment is to remind us all of the old American motto, “In God We Trust.”–J. Douglas Ousley

Not so Incompatible

January 9th, 2017

I recently heard a talk by the noted Episcopalian spiritual writer, Barbara Cawthorne Crafton. Mother Crafton read from her new book, The Also Life, which offers insights into the relationship between science and religion.

This is, of course, a vast topic. Many theologians with little knowledge of science make unconvincing claims about whether it clashes with faith; many scientists with little knowledge of religion make equally ignorant claims.

Mother Crafton takes a poetic tack, which is surely an approach worth pursuing. She spoke of the eternal presence of God as a way in which we share life (the “also life,” not the afterlife) with those whom we love who have departed this world. You can’t exactly put that thought into the language of modern physics, but the poetry of the Eternal Now (as Paul Tillich described God) is accessible to Christians who also accept the claims of modern science. —J. Douglas Ousley

Hopes and Fears

December 23rd, 2016

One of the historic connections Incarnation is most proud of is our relationship to perhaps the greatest clergyman of the 19th century, Phillips Brooks. One of Brooks’ brothers, Arthur was rector of Incarnation; Phillips preached his last Christmas sermon from our pulpit.

Brooks is indelibly linked with this season because he was the author of “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” When we sing that marvelous carol this Christmastime, we may pay particular attention to the words, “…the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

2016 had more than its share of global hopes and fears. And whatever we are feeling now, Brooks’ hymn reminds us that we can bring our feelings to Christ. Whatever our hopes, whatever our fears, we can bring them to the One who shares them and holds them in his heart. —J. Douglas Ousley